Why bother with historical sites, charming villages, scrumptious cuisine and works of art to draw the tourists in when you can offer THE GATES OF HELL.
Yes, Turkmenistan’s top tourist attraction is the Darvaza gas crater, a great firy pit, without the inconvenience of a volcano that has the tendency to erupt and kill lots of people once in a while, which has niggling side issue of putting off the average tourist. Mind you, given the visa regime the country already does its utmost to deter the average tourist, which is just the kind of reason that puts it to the top of my must go there list.
Back in the 50s the Soviets dug some test holes in the search for gas, then wondered what to do with all the gas that was spewing out of it. Some bright spark (sorry) thought that setting light to it, so that it would burn off in a week or so, would be a top idea. Evidently his estimate of the gas reserves was a touch on the low side as it is still blazing away merrily decades later. Its glow can be seen for miles at night and you could probably grill your crumpets on it if you bothered to pack a fireproof suit and stood at the rim for a while.
Alas, for those of you doing your bit for the environment by recycling a few plastic bottles and the sunday newspaper, the crater is probably pissing enough energy into the sky to keep New York going through a hard winter, but what the hell, it looks fab.
Camping out overnight is a must and it was the one occasion that I wasn’t in the least bit disgruntled to have to get up in the night for a pee, as I was treated to the sight of hundreds of birds, bathed in an eerie luminescent glow swooping and soaring in formation above the crater, presumably noshing on dimwit moths crying, “ooh look at the lovely big light”. One of the many joys of aging incontinence!